27 students accompanied by staff from Social Justice Faculty and Global Faculty spent six intense days during project week supporting refugees in Cardiff. The project started last Saturday, 19 March, with preparation for Sunday’s very successful Atlantic Refugee Day when 75 refugees came from Cardiff for a full day of games, swimming, castle tours, food and interaction with students and staff at the college.
For the next four days it was the students and teachers turn to go to Cardiff to work with STAR (Student Action for Refugees), Space4U and OASIS Refugee Centre in support of the refugees. Students delivered formal lessons and conversation classes in English, supported a refugee women’s group, helped preparing food, played sports and games, and just talked with the refugees.
Days were emotionally tough as the refugees told their stories: becoming an orphan in Sudan at aged 11 and walking all the way to Libya, taking turns swimming to push the inflatable boat that ran out of fuel across the Aegean Sea; escaping from Eritrea’s indefinite military service; literally walking through Europe; experiencing trauma, loneliness, mistreatment by governments, racism by citizens: ‘the experience was so overwhelming and left me with a lot of questions about the world, about immigration and about justice and equality. A lot of the conversations I had made me realise how much I have and how much I need to appreciate what I have and not take anything as granted. One of the things that touched me and undermined me the most was playing with the children,’ (Yali Rothenberg, class of 2017, Israel).
‘The stories were so touching and full of a mixture of sorrow and hope, especially stories from the Syrian refugees. Seeing them suffer and hearing their sad stories had an influence on something inside us all. Hearing stories about places in Syria that I have been to and knowing that they are now demolished made me cry once while talking to a refugee.’ (Nadine Odeh, class of 2017, Palestine).
‘I am so happy to have been given the chance to go on this project week, because although exhausting and emotionally draining, it taught me so much, about the Eritrean, Ethiopian, Syrian, Sudanese and Albanian cultures but it also taught me that teaching is truly one of the hardest things to do, and that education is the key to many many doors. This week made me truly realize how lucky I am to be where I am, and to never stop appreciating that.’ (Anya Chen, class of 2017, Singapore).
Hearing the stories from the refugees helped students to reflect on the refugee issue: ‘During the project, I realised that receiving a refugee status, or at least food and shelter, is not enough. Obviously, it is very important to give people that flee due to fear of persecution a refugee status, a home and food but imagine moving to a country, leaving your family behind, not speaking the language, not knowing anyone, being traumatised from your past and knowing that some people in the new country you live in now don’t want you to be there. You would be completely lost.’ (Caroline Montag, class of 2016 Germany).
One aim of the project was to provide much needed help for refugees to improve their English, but perhaps even more importantly to facilitate learning, reflection and transformation with the students themselves. It was also important that students and refugees connected on a human level – that they met as equals: ‘Even if I am not sure how much I actually helped individuals improve their English, I know that our refugee exchange helped them feel welcomed and supported. At the same time it was a lovely cultural experience for me and I learned so much during the exchange. I learned about Eritrean and Sudanese culture and traditions. I learned how to appreciate what you have, appreciate living in a stable political society without being discriminated. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the refugees in general as they experience much opposition and criticism. Finally, the most important thing I took from this week is that we have to stop looking away. This week has greatly motivated me to further work with refugees.’ (Caroline Montag, class of 2016 Germany).
(Article supplied by Teaching staff: Jon Morten Steinveg, Sylvi Wirtjes, Nidal Alcalde & Catrin Anthony with student quotes from those who participated in Project Week)